Ask A Chef: What's Your Worst Thanksgiving Kitchen Disaster?


We asked about yours a few weeks ago, and now it's the professional's turn. Read on for many mortifying tales, including dropped turkeys and more than a few deep-fried disasters.

"Yeah, once, years ago when I was living in the Bay Area, I had prepared a feast for 20 guests. There was so much food. Well, six people showed up. We hardly made a dent in the meal, but we had enough wine for twenty, which we shared between the six of us. Felling bitter about our guests no-showing, we threw the turkey out the fourth floor window. (We did go clean it up later.)" —John Gorham, Tasty n Sons, Portland, OR

"The year of Turkey Toboggan, when we cooked a 36 lb turkey. The damn thing was so heavy, I couldn't get the rack to slide out, so I had my mom get on one side and I was on the other and on the count of three, we pulled. Hard. That turkey came flying out of the oven, hit the door and flew off of it like an Olympic toboggan, and skidded across the brick floor and flipped out of the pan. Of course we looked at each other and fell on the floor laughing. My stepdad saw the whole thing happen and did NOT think it was funny, so the madder he got, the harder we laughed. We finally got up and got it off the floor, and back into the pan. (Thank god my mom's floors were clean.) My stepdad would not eat that turkey. He never forgave us, and he still doesn't think it's funny." — Maureen Donegan, Presidio Social Club, San Francisco


"One time we tried to have a potluck at Buddakan before Thanksgiving and the wrong person took the responsibility of the turkey. She brined in raw, unfiltered apple cider instead of taking our suggestions to deep fry it, and ended up burning the outside of the turkey while leaving the inside raw. It was nasty." —Dale Talde, Talde and Pork Slope, Brooklyn

"When my mom cooked Thanksgiving dinner about 10 years ago, she didn't know how long to cook the turkey so she slow-roasted it overnight. The bird came out nice and golden brown, but the breast meat was so bone-dry it fell right off the bone. We only had a few bites that year." — Mike Isabella, Kapnos and Graffiato in Washington, D.C

"My mother in law (who is an outstanding cook) had used her mother's massive Dutch oven to roast the turkey in one year. Not realizing that the bird would rapidly roast in the oven, she had over cooked the turkey to a 200+ degree internal temperature! The dry bird was barely edible with the most tacky lifeless texture of any bird I've ever tried. Trying to make her feel better, I pulled some Pillsbury puff pastry out of the freezer, cut them into rounds, picked the meat and made Turkey Vol au Vent. It was quite tasty and was enjoyed by the family. Pretty good save I would say. "—Joe Monnich, The Dandelion, Philadelphia

"I can honestly say that I feel like I have nailed every Thanksgiving meal that I have ever prepared. The scariest Thanksgiving dinner service, though, was when a cook and I got drunk before 7 a.m. because we drank the rest of the bottle of Wild Turkey!" — Joey Campanaro, Little Owl and Market Table, New York

"My first Thanksgiving in NYC, I was at a friend's place helping out with the preparations. I was responsible for making the gravy from the jus. I couldn't find anything to strain the sauce so I carefully balanced a towel over a measuring cup as a filter.. and what do you know, I spilled it everywhere and lost all the jus." —Richard Kuo, Pearl and Ash, New York


"One year, I was given a wild turkey to cook on Thanksgiving and I attempted to cook it like a turkey you would purchase at the grocery store. I then had to watch my grandmother and 8-year-old cousin eat the chewiest, most inedible version of a turkey that has ever been cooked." —Shane Lyons, Distilled, New York

"With good wine how can there be a disaster? But, once, I was making French onion soup for all my guests, as they had requested it, and the tray carrying the soup bowls fell, spilling half of the soups. We shared the four bowls that were okay and just opened another bottle of wine." —David Myers, Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles

"I haven't had any Thanksgiving disasters just yet! My first job was managing the Butterball Turkey Talk Line, so I advised on all of the turkey trauma! After that job, I learned how to avoid all turkey disasters." —Elizabeth Karmel, Hill Country Barbecue Market and Hill Country Chicken, New York


"When I was a teenager I fried a turkey and left the plastic bag of gizzards in it. We ate the turkey. Gizzards didn't make it to the table." —Justin Devillier, La Petite Grocery, New Orleans

"YES! I had a huge turkey brining in a plastic bag in the fridge, and that thing slid right out of the fridge and landed smack on the floor. Brine and turkey juice went everywhere." —Ford Fry, JCT Kitchen & Bar and The Optimist, Atlanta

"We hosted thanksgiving for the whole staff in my apartment in Boston a few years back, and I burred the mashed potatoes so bad. I had to throw them away, and ran to the bodega across the street, and bought more. I peeled, cut and cooked them so fast, but made it in time." —Jamie Bissonnette, Coppa in Boston and Toro in Boston and New York

"When asked to cook at a friend's NYC apartment one year, I arrived and found that the turkey would not fit in his oven. Solution: cook it like we do at Gotham. I boned it out and cooked the parts separately." — Alfred Portale, Gotham Bar & Grill, New York

"When I was living in Arizona and cooking with some friends, we pulled the turkey to rest then went outside to drink a glass of wine. We should have taken the dog with was just like in "A Christmas Story," but the damage was done by just one hungry dog. We just ate a lot of stuffing and green beans and pie!" —Stephanie Izard, The Girl and the Goat and Little Goat, Chicago


"When we first switched over to deep-frying our turkey, we experimented with a variety of different methods to see what would yield the best turkey. We had heard through the grapevine that frying the turkey while it was still completely frozen would make for the crispiest skin. Well obviously we decided we had to test this theory out. We put the turkey in the deep-fryer and it almost exploded and the oil bubbled over, spilling everywhere. Luckily, we were outside so not too much damage was done." Iron Chef Jose Garces

"Very early in my career, I a had a catering job where I needed to fry 14 turkeys for a lunch the next day and I only had one fryer. I fell asleep while one was cooking and nearly caught my house on fire!" —Tim Love, Lonesome Dove Western Bistro and Woodshed Smokehouse, Ft. Worth, Texas

"C'mon, I'm a professional. Of course I've shown my ass while cooking for my most important audience—my family. I've fired myself from stuffing. I simply can't get it right. The year that the stuffing wound up simultaneously, charred and crunchy on the outside and hot, soupy bread was the final straw. I have someone else make the stuffing and my family is secretly thankful." —Greg Baker, The Refinery, Tampa, FL

"It all started with the brilliant idea we had to smoke our turkeys. This was back when we worked under Jeremiah Towers at Stars in San Francisco, and when we ordered the turkeys for delivery, before we knew it every cook in the kitchen was offering their advice on the best way to cook the birds...even Jeremiah! We brought them down to our house in Carmel, smoked the first one perfectly, but when it came to the second one, Mark looked up after 20 minutes to find the Weber flooding with thick smoke. He opened the top to find a fireball of a turkey which he proceed to toss in the sink. We thought all hope was last when we noticed that although the skin was incinerated, the turkey was cooked perfectly through. We call it our '20-minute turkey.'"—Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, M.C. Spiedo, Boston


"Yes! Let's just preface this story by saying that I'm Irish, so I pride myself on my mashed potatoes. We had about twelve people over for Thanksgiving and after preparing our feast, I noticed a very strange flavor coming from the batch of potatoes. With a pot of spuds in hand, I greeted my fellow chef friend who was joining us and exclaimed, "Taste these! Don't think they came out right!" Laughing, he nodded in agreement confirming my suspicion that someone tampered with my potatoes! During the kitchen interrogation, I looked to my mother-in-law who told me she added white vinegar to stop the potatoes from oxidizing, when in fact it should have been water! Being the lovely Italian that she is, I told her to leave the spuds to me and she can cover the pasta." —Frank McMahon, Hank's Seafood, Charleston, SC

"As I'm French, I've only recently started cooking Thanksgiving turkey. My first year making the turkey, someone suggested I use one of those "Turkey bags" to cook the turkey in. Let's just say, I won't be doing that again. I'm surprised that I was allowed the opportunity to cook the turkey the following year." — Olivier Souvestre, Fast Food Francais, Sausalito, CA

"I have never had any disasters on Thanksgiving, "knock on wood," but I was present at a party where my buddy was deep frying a turkey and forgot to completely defrost the bird. What happened next was something I could see coming a mile away. The grease exploded out of the pot and caught fire. It took lots of baking soda, salt and a garden hose to put the fire out." —Richard Gras, Oak, Dallas, TX